Legendary Bourbon Street entertainer Chris Owens dies at age 89 – OffBeat Magazine

Legendary Bourbon Street entertainer Chris Owens dies at age 89 – OffBeat Magazine

Chris Owens, a performer, club owner and entrepreneur who remained a fixture on Bourbon Street for more than six decades, died today of a heart attack in her French Quarter apartment above the landmark nightclub that bears her name. She was 89.
Owens’ longtime publicist Kitsy Adams confirmed the news to multiple media outlets in New Orleans.
Owens, who was affectionately known as the “Queen of the Vieux Carré,” was expected to reign again at her annual Easter parade that has rolled through the French Quarter since 1983 when she took over the procession following the death of Arnaud’s restaurateur Germaine Wells. The parade of floats, carriages, and riders wearing spring-season holiday finery will proceed on Sunday, April 17, in Owens’ memory.
Owens was born Christine Shaw on her father’s ranch outside Abilene, Texas, in 1932, one of eight children. She attended nursing school but at age 20 left to join her sister in New Orleans. She worked as a medical receptionist before meeting her eventual husband, millionaire automobile dealer Sol Owens. Chris became the featured act at the Club 809, located at 809 St. Louis Street in the French Quarter, that the couple opened in 1956. For the next six decades, she would perform song-and-dance numbers modeled after acts Chris discovered on visits to Havana’s famous Tropicana Club in the 1950s. Owens would eventually own a nightclub at the corner of St. Louis and Bourbon streets, along with 30 shops and four apartments, following the death of her husband in 1979. Owens told the Times-Picayune in 1974 that she was “the only legitimate act that didn’t include taking all my clothes off” on the bawdy thoroughfare known for its proliferation of striptease clubs.
In an interview with OffBeat editor Bunny Matthews in 2004, Owens shared memories of a life on stage that by then had already proven to have staying power. Owens was honored with an inaugural Bourbon Street Award at OffBeat‘s Best of the Beat ceremony that year, presented in recognition of her long and glamorous career on New Orleans’ most famous thoroughfare.
Of her time in pre-communist Cuba, Owens said, “I caught it on the very end, when Castro’s troops were actually moving in. One night, we were going to the Tropicana, which is on 12 acres of land. It was the most fabulous club in the world! They had a glass dome and they performed shows under the dome and out in the open air. They had platforms set up in palm trees and everything. There was a huge cast: if they did a show about Africa, they would bring the Africans in to do it. The shows were absolutely incredible! And they had a casino and restaurants. It’s now used as a military drilling base for Castro, since he took over.”
Of changes she witnessed on Bourbon Street, Owens said, “Oh, good Lord, has it changed a lot! When we first had our club at 809 St. Louis Street, it was strictly strip clubs and they had a few jazz clubs. Where Razoo’s is right now, that used to be a garage. Where BBC’s is, right across the street, that was a strip club. What I see now is more variety of entertainment than ever before—more bands. As far as shows, I’m the show because it’s mostly just bands playing on Bourbon Street. I’ll bet more musicians are working now than ever before because of that. They’ve opened more restaurants and hotels. I think it’s improved. And now it’s expanded to the river with House of Blues and Hard Rock Café. I’ve seen some come and go—like Planet Hollywood and Fashion Café. Some make it and some don’t. But you always see new people come in, opening clubs. I’ve seen huge change.
“A lot of people start talking about all the t-shirt shops but if you travel around the world, which I’ve had the opportunity to do, every city has them. I incorporate into my show what I’ve seen from around the world—like I do a number a lot of people request, ‘Don’t Cry For Me Argentina.’ Before anyone did it in America, I heard it first in Singapore and then in London. I think I was the first one to sing it in America.”
Mayor LaToya Cantrell issued an official statement: “Today we mourn the passing of Chris Owens, one of the brightest lights of the French Quarter. The consummate entertainer and the star of her own Bourbon Street nightclub, Ms. Owens was charismatic, beautiful and iconic. This news is even sadder as we are just weeks away from the Easter parade that became her most glorious stage.”
This is a developing story. OffBeat will publish a full obituary in the days to come. 
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